By on August 22, 2011

The California legislature last week sent legislation to Governor Jerry Brown (D) designed to boost the number of citations issued for for driving while talking with a cell phone in hand. The measure also increases the maximum possible fine to $528.

The state Senate last Monday gave final approval to Senate Bill 28 by a vote of 23 to 13, and the Assembly had done the same in July by 51 to 21. The measure increases the current first offense fine for holding a cell phone behind the wheel from $208 to $328 and a second offense from $328 to $528 with one license point. Talking on a handheld cell phone while driving has been illegal since January 2009, but it has been a secondary offense. If Brown signs the bill into law, it would become a primary offense, meaning police could pull someone over for using a cell phone without needing to identify any other traffic violation.

State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), the bill’s sponsor, insists the existing ban has been successful and should be expanded. The Legislative Analysts Office believes the evidence is far from conclusive. In the two years before the initial cell phone ban took effect and in the two years after, the number of fatal and injury collisions involving a cell phone using driver stayed effectively the same at between .09 percent and .11 percent before and .10 after.

Because the bill would drive up insurance rates for ticket recipients, AAA Northern California, which sells insurance, backed the legislation. Taxpayers for Improving Public Safety spoke out against the bill.

“The reason for the insignificance of hands-free use versus hands-on use is attributed to the fact that the manner in which the cellphone is used is irrelevant, because it is the conversation itself that distracts drivers and contributes to collisions,” the taxpayer group explained in a statement. “Therefore, the approach taken by SB 28 and previously related anti-cellphone legislation appears to be based upon erroneous conclusions, and seeks to address a mere symptom — but not the cause — of behavior which leads to collisions and thereby adversely impacts our level of public safety.”

Bicyclists would also be fined $20 for riding while talking into a phone for the first time and $50 for the second.

A copy of the bill is available in a 130k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: Senate Bill 28 (California State Legislature, 8/16/2011)


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32 Comments on “California to Hike Cell Phone Driving Fine...”

  • avatar

    If the cell phone user observed has their headed tilted away from the horizontal plane I have noticed a tendency of increased “distracted”-type driving such as wandering in the lane, late reaction for deceleration and acceleration maneuvers, etc.

    It is frustrating to be at a traffic control light and due to one or more cell phone user’s ultra-slow reactions to accelerating for a green light minimizing to greatly minimizing the number of vehicles able to proceed for the green light before it changes to the “y’all gotta’ stop and wait” mode.

    Some of these events result in a mere couple cars being able to turn left when if the awaiting drivers were not so dern’ impaired due to their cell phone usage I believe a dozen or more vehicles could have been on their way.

    And female drivers appear to be impaired the most with texting youth a close second.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Excellent, ALL other states should do the same, I am 100% for it.

  • avatar

    So this bill has been in place since 2009. With zero real impact to road safety. But a lot of tickets have been written, and a lot of money collected by the state.

    Our roads are safer every year. A previous TTAC article addressed this fact.

    With both of these factors in mind, this whole mess just screams Money Grab to me.

    As an aside, I’d like to add that I commute by motorcycle a lot. The folks talking on cellphones don’t scare me since they tend to move as slowly, or slower, than traffic. The texters do scare me because they aren’t watching the road. But by far, I get most nervous around the guys in sports cars and sports sedans that are trying to aggressively cut their way through traffic.

    • 0 avatar

      re: “…I get most nervous around the guys in sports cars and sports sedans that are trying to aggressively cut their way through traffic.”

      precisely like many motorcyclists? i thought so.

      • 0 avatar

        And those barreling through with a 60-foot 40,000+ semi….

        though luckily they seldom can built up too much speed within town.

        Or those guys that steal a tank from a National Guard armory as that rascal in California did a few years back.

        Parked cars were helpless as he rolled over the top of them.

        Finally was stopped by “high centering” on a concrete lane barrier and the cop jumped atop the tank, opened the “lid” and shot the guy dead.


        Luckily not a common occurrence.

      • 0 avatar

        Fair enough point. I have a big and slow dual sport bike, and typically do not cut through traffic. I ride like an old man anymore.

        But I do cringe when I see a few crotch rockets coming through traffic. These guys can be unpredictable.

  • avatar

    It is easier and safer to fine a mini-van driving mom in her Odyssey than it is to stop a car load of young men in a blinged out 300. Cops are people too. They’d rather deal with a 33 year old MILF over her cell phone for easy bucks, then figure out what is going on behind the tinted windows in a ghetto cruiser.

    Criminalize the law abiding citizens for extra cash.

  • avatar
    beach cruiser

    Vanilla Dude has it so right. It is the same with speeding laws here in sunny SoCal. It has little to do with reducing speeding, as the enforcement of those laws is inconsistent, sporadic, and ineffective. I always see the minivans and other family trucksters pulled over for speeding because it is an easy way to finance the agency that pulls these people over for speeding. It may be just my opinion, but I have not seen a decrease in cell phone use in cars since the initial law took place in 2009. This new law will have no effect on most drivers as most drivers just are not aware enough of traffic laws in general and at least in California do not really care.

    • 0 avatar

      Personally, I am much more distracted by having to dial by fiddling with an Idrive joystick while looking at the multimedia screen to see if I got the numbers right, than I ever was dialing on a phone keypad that I know by finger memory.

      To reduce incidents of dangerously distracted driving, one should ban driving in a dangerously distracted manner. Cruisers have video cameras on them now, hence would have no problem in the world demonstrating to a jury that they observed someone driving dangerously. The specific reason why that someone did so is utterly irrelevant for traffic safety.

      But as long as the goal is simply the age old and exclusive goal of all and every government, that’s be plunder, I guess any old childish excuse for doing so is a-ok.

  • avatar

    If it was really about safety and not revenue, why not make the penalty community service? Sometimes I hate my state.

  • avatar

    I think the woman pictured just exited from the HOV lane in her Prius driving by herself at the normal Prius freeway speed of 85mph.

  • avatar

    People support these kinds of laws because they really believe talking on a cell while driving is dangerous. You’d almost think the media would do a story detailing how driving is getting safer while cell use has exploded. But I guess good news doesn’t sell papers.

    • 0 avatar

      Talking on a cell phone while driving IS dangerous; there are numerous studies that prove it and not one that disproves it. Everybody knows it’s dangerous, but like smoking and not wearing seat belts everyone believes they personally will be unaffected. There’s another article today lamenting that the entry level VW model had almost doubled in weight in the last 20 years largely due to mandated safety standards; that is the reason why driving is getting safer, not any sort of improvement in drivers’ capabilities.

      • 0 avatar

        I used NHTSA data on this thread to show that those who are using their phones are involved in lower rates of fatal accidents than those who don’t.

        Phone users drive more slowly and make fewer lane changes than do those who don’t use the phone.

        If you strip away the hype, the real world accident data tells us that phones don’t increase crash rates. For many drivers, distraction may actually be preferable to the alternative that they would otherwise choose — more aggressive driving.

      • 0 avatar

        Pch 101 “I used NHTSA data on this thread to show that those who are using their phones are involved in lower rates of fatal accidents than those who don’t.” … “If you strip away the hype, the real world accident data tells us that phones don’t increase crash rates.”

        The first point may well be true (and is actually fairly interesting), but as I noted in another thread, statistics governing fatality rates may not translate equally to crash rates. Thus, while it may be true that phone users are involved in fewer fatal accidents, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are involved in fewer accidents overall. It could well be the case that phone user are a higher risk for accidents (due to their inattentiveness), but a lower risk for fatality (due to their slower, more cautious driving style)

      • 0 avatar

        as I noted in another thread, statistics governing fatality rates may not translate equally to crash rates.

        If you look at sources such as NHTSA’s FARS database, you will see that fatality and crash rates are both generally on the decline (except for motorcycles, which are a notable exception.) This is the case despite the fact that most of the country has not made phones illegal. Aside from a hunch, your thesis doesn’t have much to support it.

  • avatar

    Whether or not laws are about safety or just a cash grab I couldn’t give a rat’s about.

    But my blood starts to boil at people who in any way shape or form start defending their using a cellphone while driving.

    I don’t care what stats you quote, I KNOW because I see it almost every day that people yacking on a phone are often oblivious to what is going on around them.

    I’ve lost count of people sailing through red lights and stop signs and nearly t-boning me while blathering away.

    I hate “laws” and red tape as much as the next guy but until “driving while distracted” becomes as much of a social taboo as DUI has become then I think it is fair game to enact laws against it.

    A vehicle is a lethal weapon in the wrong hands and driving is a privilege not a right.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t care what stats you quote

      Of course. No reason to allow facts to interfere with an argument.

      The subject is a bit more complex than you’re willing to acknowledge. Distraction isn’t exactly ideal, but the real-world alternatives — aggression, for one — aren’t better and can even be worse.

      • 0 avatar

        Pch 101 “Distraction isn’t exactly ideal, but the real-world alternatives — aggression, for one — aren’t better and can even be worse.”

        This is assuming, of course, that a drop in distraction would be accompanied by a rise in aggression. I’m not sure how you could show that, but if true, then I would be inclined to agree with you.

      • 0 avatar

        This is assuming, of course, that a drop in distraction would be accompanied by a rise in aggression.

        Even the University of Utah, which has been at the forefront of the anti-phone campaigns, has found this to be true.

        This shows you how a naturalistic study can produce different, more realistic results than can the simulator studies:

        Participants were instructed only to obey the speed limit and to signal when making a lane change. These simple driving instructions allowed participants to freely vary driving behaviors such as following distance, speed, and lane-changing maneuvers. Results indicated that, when drivers conversed on the cell phone, they made fewer lane changes, had a lower overall mean speed, and a significant increase in travel time in the medium and high density driving conditions. Drivers on the cell phone were also much more likely to remain behind a slower moving lead vehicle than drivers in single-task condition.

        The typical simulator and other controlled studies don’t provide the “driver” with much, if any, flexibility to choose how he or she drives during the test. As a result, the simulator studies show that phone usage presents a higher risk because the situations are controlled to remove the test subject’s ability to adjust his behavior to match his phone usage.

        Unlike the simulator studies, the naturalistic studies attempt to observe normal behavior that the driver would choose for himself if given the option. And as it turns out, drivers who are on the phone opt to drive more conservatively than they would otherwise, which one would expect would reduce crash rates.

        Distraction isn’t exactly great, but aggression and erratic behavior are much greater problems. And if you forced to choose between drivers who are distracted and drivers who are aggressive, then it would seem that distraction is preferable.

        Of course, it would be nice if drivers were both free of distraction and chilled out simultaneously. But in the real world, that may be asking the impossible.

      • 0 avatar

        Pch101 you are spot on here. I am imagining my ride home. It’s pretty much a 26 mile straight shot from work to home. I don’t really need to change lanes much once I get on the main roads.

        I can get on the phone and make a call or two. WHile on the phone, I usually drive more slowly and leave more room in front of me. The commute seems to just fly by.

        Or I can not use the phone. In which case the traffic starts to annoy me. The guy in front is suddenly not moving fast enough. I get closer and closer to his bumper. Etc. The commute takes forever!

        See the difference?

  • avatar

    So the fine will be for holding a cellphone in your hand while driving, no matter what you’re doing?

    Here’s my dilemma. I’m a California driver. I have a nice hands-free BlueTooth plus a voice activated dialer that works fine. So I’m clear.

    Except for one number. California has a 511 service for driving conditions. If I’m in a traffic jam I can call and get immediate real-time updates on what the problem is and then choose an alternate route if appropriate. But for some reason my cellphone won’t accept 511 by voice activation. So I have to dial the three digit #, then hands off from that point. Right or wrong, up until now it’s only been illegal to talk holding the cellphone, dialing has been OK.

    Ironic, then, that with the new law I won’t be able to use the real-time traffic reporting system while driving!

  • avatar


    Just Velcro the sucker to the steering wheel.

  • avatar

    This is great news. Once again, California FTMFW. Distracted drivers cause traffic to not flow as well as it could. This isn’t a money grab. All you have to do is follow the law, and you won’t have to pay.

    Years ago when I was a punk kid, I used to think BS like…hey..the limit is 60, but I’m an alert driver, so I can do 80 or other BS thinking like that…I got sick of paying so many fines, so since about 2001, I have made it a point to not exceed the posted speed limits, and not cross yellow lights…the result??? I haven’t had a ticket since.

    It’s a money grab only if you don’t follow the law…but it won’t please cell phone talkers/ texters, fire up the ol smartphone next time you are on the freeway.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s a money grab only if you don’t follow the law…

      Yeah – who cares what happens to your friends, neighbors or community when governments enforce money grab laws?

      It’s all about you, right?

  • avatar

    Considering the staggering debt they have in California maybe all fines should be hiked to 1000.00. They can discourage any bad behavior while feeding the massive debt monster.
    I don’t live there so I don’t care what they do.

  • avatar

    I always love the ‘knee jerk’ reaction to BAN CELLPHONES they are a distraction to drivers!

    Well, better get to banning the AM/FM radio, putting on the makeup, eating, children, pets, passengers, the list goes on and on. Because if we are going to start bannning distractions, we’d better ban ALL of them.

    In fact, let’s just ban people to one individual per vehicle….no wait, the environmentalists won’t have that on their carbon footprint conscience, so let’s just ban automobiles instead and we can all suffer in mass transit together, problem solved.

    • 0 avatar

      If cell phone driving ended due to a banning of automobiles, these governments would start fining us for walking and talking on cell phones.

      It isn’t about distracted or safe driving. It is about bilking millions from law abiding citizens by passing laws making what they normally do, criminal.

      The law is the bigger crime here. We are seeing the continuing evolution of fashion policing. In a world where situational ethics decides, society is demanding the enforcement of laws that are not based on criminal acts. The police like it because they don’t have to confront dangerous people and they can collect millions annually from harmless law abiding citizens.

      Fashion policing allows fashionable people to gain power to dictate how everyone behaves. Right now it is fashionable to feel guilty while driving anything larger than a moped or not propel oneself down a road in some kind of imported hybrid car. So speaking on a cell phone while driving would be considered unfashionable and downright rude to everyone else who expects the caller’s attention.

      Speaking on a cell phone appears similar to a crazy person speaking to themselves. It is unbecoming and fashionable people don’t like being ignored when they are in public driving in their fashionable imported hybrid cars. It isn’t distracted driving that irritates these anti-cell phone people, it is the appearance of rudeness that drives them crazy.

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